Willie Howard Mays, born May 6, 1931 in Westfield, Alabama spent some much needed time in San Francisco as the Giants outfielder. In fact, just two days before his birthday in 1965, he hit his 512th career home run which broke Mel Ott’s National League record for home runs. Mays would later finish his career with 660 homers, which put him in third place on the all-time most home runs list. Willie learned the art of baseball from his father, who also played the sport. Mays Sr. played on a semi-professional team with his steel mill company.
At the formidable age of 14 years, Willie joined his father’s semi-pro team. And then at the age of 16 he joined the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Southern League, which kicked off his professional career in baseball. From 1948 to 1950, Mays played home games for the Barons, but putting his education before his passion, he would skip road trip games so he could attend high school. Once he received his high school diploma, Willie signed with the New York Giants and played his debut game on May 25, 1951, at the Polo Grounds.
His first 12-at-bats, Mays was completely hitless, but on his thirteenth (because they say at least some form of three is a charm) he hit his first major league home run. The same season, he aided the Giants to the National League pennant and was consequently named Rookie of the Year. Then in 1953, Willie Mays was drafted into the U.S. Army. The Giants suffered major losses in the absence of their rookie leader, in 1953, they ended the season with a 70-84 record.
Mays played with the Giants for over 20 years, first in New York then in San Francisco. On May 11, 1972, Mays was added to the New York Mets roster, and spent his next two seasons under famed and skilled Yogi Berra as Willie’s manager and mentor. By 1973, Mays skills had begun to decline, he could no longer catch up to the fastballs he once threw himself as a Giant. All good things, or talents, must come to an end at some point, but this should never undermine all of the hard work and achievements that transpired. In 1979, Willie was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and many believe that the title to “greatest baseball player in history” could only go to the one and only, Willie Mays.